For the first 15 minutes we're treated to the back story of '80s gangster Wilson Deleon Sr. (Manny Perez), a hard-working, merciful Bronx drug dealer just trying to make his way in this crazy world. He has a child on the way; her shrewd mother, Millie (Wanda De Jesus) has just laundered all his street earnings into a sizeable nest egg. Of course, on the night she tells him to stay in, he goes out and, of course, that's the night she delivers and, of course, that's the night his crew betrays him and two ridiculously buxom assassins gun him down.
Continue reading: Illegal Tender Review
Elah is set in late 2004, when previously pro-war segments of the population started seeing cracks in the official flag-waving rhetoric, and ugly rumors started flying about what was actually going on Over There. Haggis' hard-boiled script -- closely based on Mark Boal's harsh, eye-opening article, "Death and Dishonor," published in Playboy in 2004 -- takes the form not of a war film but of a mystery, hiding its disquieting revelations in a familiar structure. Retired military policeman Hank Deerfield (Tommy Lee Jones) finds out that his son Mike (Jonathan Tucker, from Haggis' short-lived TV show The Black Donnellys), currently serving in Iraq, went AWOL not long after coming home on R&R. Having already lost his other son to combat in Afghanistan, and convinced he's getting some sort of runaround from the army, Hank hops in his winded old pickup and heads to Mike's base looking for answers.
Continue reading: In The Valley Of Elah Review
Pearce plays Jimmy Starks, a walking grease bucket of a salesman who is waiting for his car to get fixed when we first meet him (as if the name left any room for ethical clarity). Jimmy is trying to sell everyone: He attempts to sell a jukebox to a bar owner (he already has one), tries to sell his intellectual cynicism to a fortune teller (J.K. Simmons, playing it surprisingly low key), and tries to sell his respect to his colleagues and coworkers (William Fichtner and Rick Gonzalez, respectively). When the fortune teller tells him that he will go tits-up when the first snow hits, Starks responds with impervious flaunting and jittery paranoia. Self-aware and gaunt with confusion and doubt, Starks begins to take action to ensure he won't die. Not an easy charge with a vexed ex-partner (Shea Whigham), sneering and prodding through late night phone calls.
Continue reading: First Snow Review
It's a shame, too, because computer-centric horror is usually a good bet for ridiculousness. Here, the computer stuff isn't detailed enough to really bug the geeks; they'll be too busy pointing out how the movie's screenplay could be improved, and how Kristen Bell takes one of the most disappointing baths in horror history.
Continue reading: Pulse (2006) Review
We should leave happy and satisfied after rooting for these young men every step of the way, but we don't, and the reason is clear. The movie's dancers and the music may have soul, but Roll Bounce has none, and it starts with the characters.
Continue reading: Roll Bounce Review
Except in this case, the events actually happened. Coach Carter (Samuel L. Jackson) benched his undefeated Richmond Oilers in 1999 because the team failed to meet academic requirements he established at the start of the season. Amid protests from both school faculty and area parents, Carter locked his players out of the gymnasium and drove them into the library until their grades were up to snuff.
Continue reading: Coach Carter Review
If the roller-disco nostalgia comedy "Roll Bounce" didn't have Malcolm D. Lee in the director's chair, it would be downright unwatchable.
Built on a sloppy, fill-in-the-blanks plot, it follows a group of rollerskate-crazy 1970s teens from Chicago's tough South Side as they're forced to migrate to trendy North Side roller disco because their run-down local rink has been shuttered. This leads inevitably to a into a rivalry with hot-shot locals and a "skate-off" finale, and the story couldn't be more stale if the script itself were a dusted-off relic from the Jimmy Carter era.
But Lee has a gift for finding gold nuggets of personality and comedy in the tailings of over-mined plots. He turned 1999's contrived reunion/wedding flick "The Best Man" into a character-rich dramedy and exploited the stupidity of 2002's "Undercover Brother" for great laughs. In "Roll Bounce," he makes up for the shopworn, thoroughly predictable source material by punching up the comedy and hiring talented young stars to flesh out the stock characters.
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A pair of robust performances from Laurence Fishburne and Derek Luke (the Antwone Fisher of "Antwone Fisher") raise the laughably-titled motorcycle action flick "Biker Boyz" slightly above its veneer as a two-wheel rip-off of "The Fast and the Furious."
Similarly set in the "sideshow" world of illegal street racing, this movie comes minus the ridiculous cops-vs.-smugglers subplot and plus some impressive Western-inspired trick riding. In one scene two bikers speed down the freeway, dismounted to one side of their muscle-cycles with both feet in metal-soled boots, making contact with the road and sending out 20-foot sparks.
But while the plot is utterly predictable -- Kid (Luke), a hot-headed but talented up-and-coming racer, wants to challenge long-time champion Smoke (Fishburne) for his title -- the love-hate relationship between the two (Kid's dad had been Smoke's mechanic) has more depth and dimension than this kind of over-polished B-movie usually musters (see Sylvester Stallone and Kip Pardue in the formulaic, Formula One-themed "Driven").
Continue reading: Biker Boyz Review
There's a lot of curious cross-national casting going on in Lisa Cholodenko's "Laurel Canyon," a dysfunctional family dramedy about a lifestyle collision between a pot-smoking, fast-living record producer and her solemn, starchy Cambridge-grad son.
Jane, the party-hardy, pushing-50 mom, is played with flaky roach-clip laissez-faire by the droll Frances McDormand -- who is the only person in the cast using her own accent.
Brit Christian Bale ("American Psycho," "Reign of Fire") puts on an American brogue to play Sam, the son endlessly irritated by his mom's lax attitude toward life, who nonetheless returns to her swimming-pool and music-studio hideaway in the Los Angeles hills, along with his fiancée, when he accepts his first residency at an area psychiatric hospital.
Continue reading: Laurel Canyon Review
'Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing)' arrives in April.
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There's a lot of curious cross-national casting going on in Lisa Cholodenko's "Laurel Canyon," a...